21 October, 2016

Blogger's decline

Doing my weekly 'rounds' of the blogs I regularly check-up on, I came across a forlorn post by Wanstead Birder in which he attempted to make sense of the terminal decline in the number of people who blog. It struck a cord with me, as only the other day I'd taken the regrettable decision to start purging my sidebar links list of any dormant blogs that hadn't posted within the past year. It's something I've been putting off for a while, not least because many of the now skeletal blogs that I linked to epitomised what was for me a 'golden age' of blogging between 2009 and 2011. At its peak, I could expect twice-weekly posts from every blog in my sidebar, with the likes of Counting Coots and Reservoir Cats, though only short lived, amassing impressive followings and cult status amongst bloggers for their unrivalled satirical observations on the birding world.

But as things move forward, the number of bloggers giving up the ghost is on the up, and it's evident that the rise in superior forms of social media is the reason behind it. In the short space of time since I started blogging back at the tail end of 2008, the likes of Twitter and Facebook have come to provide hassle-free platforms through which to share funny cat videos sightings, experiences and opinions in natural history. A blog post can take time to draw up, and the number of people that will ultimately view it is determined by the regularity and reliability of your posts. In contrast, tweets can be composed within a matter of seconds, and a 're-tweet' from the right person will slap your content onto the news feeds of hundreds of other nature enthusiasts.

I've had my fair share of disagreements with Bill's Birding over the years, most of which have culminated in variable lengths of time passing without any posts. Inevitably, the circumstances that encouraged 14-year old me to start the blog, mainly to communicate with other young birders at the time, have become less relevant, and I can now share everything I want to with my 480 odd Twitter followers in a few sentences without worrying about having to tailor to a blog audience.

That said, I feel like I've come too far to simply pull the plug. I've made a permanent connection with Bill's Birding, so much so that while out in the field I'm often subconsciously compiling a suitable blog post in my head. I've committed to the blog for so long that it's become a defining part of me; something that I care too much about to let go. Our relationship is hard to compare to anything you might be able to relate to. Think about the emotional connection you hold with a loved one (i.e. child/partner/parents). Then consider that winter coat you think you look good in. It's probably somewhere in between.

Shaggy Inkcap

12 October, 2016

Leafmining in the North Downs

There was a bit of a chill in the air as I arrived at Sheepleas yesterday morning for another dose of leafmining. The beech trees were throwing long shadows across the woodland floor and the sunlight had a distinct glare to it typical of the latter months of the year. It felt truly autumnal in the North Downs.

I recorded two species I've never seen before - the scarce (but no doubt under-recorded) Stigmella aeneofasciella which mines the leaves of Agrimony, and Parornix fagivora which makes a distinctive leaf fold on Beech.

Stigmella aeneofasciella leafmine on Agrimony 

 Euspilapteryx auroguttella on Perforate St. Johns Wort

 Parornix fagivora on Beech

 Parornix betulae on Silver Birch

 Phyllonorycter acerifoliella on Field Maple

Aspilapteryx tringipennella on Ribwort Plantain

 Pyrrhalta viburni

 Corizus hyoscyami

Tree Damsel Bug

On the way home I stopped off at Littleworth Common, just outside Esher, to check for leafmines on the large stands of Aspen and Rowan that grow on site.

 Stigmella assimilella on Aspen

 Stigmella magdalenae on Rowan

Phyllonorycter sorbi on Rowan

Caloptilia stigmatella on Aspen

11 October, 2016

Telegraph Hill

Some welcome free time yesterday afternoon tempted me to get out onto the patch to have an optimistic search for a rogue avian migrant or two. Telegraph Hill, just south of Hinchley Wood, is one of the highest points in the area as the name suggests, so it didn't seem completely unreasonable to expect a Siberian Accentor or at the very least a Ring Ouzel to drop in for a quick refuel before heading onwards into the deepest and darkest depths of upper middle-class Surrey.

Alas, nothing materialised so I resorted to some invertebrate appreciation. The irridescent leaf beetle Phratora laticolli was feeding in profusion on a small row of aspens at the top of the hill, and it wasn't too hard to find some Stigmella leaf mines on various deciduous trees in the hedgerows.

 Phratora laticolli

 Stigmella plagicolella on Blackthorn

Stigmella ulmivora on Elm

10 October, 2016

Foreign field guides

Last Saturday saw the Amateur Entomologists' Society's Annual Exhibition held in a massive room at Kempton Park racecourse. Asides from being a mouthful to say, the exhibition consists of a diverse (if a little underwhelming) concoction of stalls selling live pet insects, mounted specimens, entomological equipment and the latest wildlife-related literature. I try and get over there every few years to bump into old friends, but with enticing book titles being sold in all four corners of the room and a bank account balance that seems to remain in a perceptually frail state, it's always a dangerous place to go. This year the exhibition coincided with payday, which instilled within me enough confidence to grab a couple of foreign field guides to add to the bookshelf - 'Fjadermott i Norden' and 'Suomen Luteet'.

In our quest to give everything Anglocentric common names it's surprisingly easy to forget that the world of insects doesn't evolve around Britain, not by a long stretch. A large proportion of the latest entomology-related research is carried out in institutes across Scandinavia, and field guides like these two are a testament to this.

Fjadermott i Norden is a pocket-sized Swedish guide that illustrates all 58 species of plume moth found in Scandinavia, many of which are also present in the UK. I won't claim to be able to understand a word of it, but the book's in-depth coverage of larval stages combined with fantastic illustrations was reason enough to part with a tenner for it.

The other book I purchased is called Suomen Luteet - translated simply as 'Finnish Bugs'. It was an impulse buy having been recommended to me 10 minutes earlier by good pal and leading hemipteran guru Tristan Bantock. The layout is simple and an impressive array of species are described (a hefty proportion of which are also present in the UK) using high quality photographs of mounted specimens.

As far as I'm aware, there are no other books available that cover Hemiptera in such a comprehensive manner, and at £35 it's a bit of a bargain. The only pricey bit will be the subsequent Finnish language classes you'll need to be able to read it.

01 October, 2016

Mushroom interlude

Earlier this week I found myself driving to Aylesbury with a couple of hours to spare before a bat survey, so I stopped off to stretch my legs in the tiny hamlet of Christmas Common that sits atop a steep chalk escarpment within the Chilterns Hills.

I parked in a lay-by and walked off, in no particular direction, through a silent patch of beech woodland. It was my first autumnal walk of the year, with dappled sunlight beaming through the gaps in the tree canopy where leaves had begun to fall, and fungi of various shapes and sizes fruiting amongst the leaf litter.

An unidentified Bolete

Amethyst Deciever

03 September, 2016

The luck of late August

I often experience somewhat of a burnout when it comes to my enthusiasm for finding moths at this time of year. The excitement of daytime sweep netting amongst fresh vegetation in May and June is a distant memory, and with bright street lights illuminating the garden and such small catches as a result, putting the moth trap out can quickly become a chore with little reward.

That said, the last few weeks of August have produced some fantastic garden rarities in years past. In 2011, Surrey's 'first' Jersey Mocha greeted me as I emptied the moth trap on the morning of 30th, then in 2013 another county first appeared in the form of the beautiful and scarce Ethmia quadrillella.

Alas, this year's end of August rarity wasn't a first for Surrey but still had me squealing (perhaps a little too loudly for 2am) when it dropped into the trap on the night of 27th. Cydia amplana is a transient resident along the south coast of England, but only occasionally appears this far inland. An impressive influx in 2012 saw a small number of moths turn up in the county, but I'd never considered it a potential addition to the all-important garden list.

Cydia amplana

It shared the trap with a couple of its more regularly encountered garden relatives: Cydia pomonella and Celypha striana.

Blasts from the past: Jersey Mocha (top) and Ethmia quadrillella (below) aren't likely to reappear in the garden anytime soon.

29 August, 2016


First time (and one time) visitors to this blog could be forgiven for reading the title 'Bill's Birding' and wrongly assuming that I post about birds here. Of course this hasn't been the case for a very long time. I'm not proud of the fact that I haven't posted a photo of a bird here since April 2016, but it is what it is. I still enjoy birding as much as I ever have, but I now fulfil that enjoyment without lugging a telephoto lens around with me wherever I go, worried that I might miss the 'perfect shot' should I leave home without it.

That's not to say that I don't still look out for photographic opportunities. These loitering Mallards came to me during my time of need at the eerily beautiful Silent Pool deep in the Surrey Hills, when moths were nowhere to be seen, and allowed me to take their photograph. I was only carrying a wide-angle lens at the time but the results are quite arty-farty, and by posting them on the blog I'm fulfilling my yearly quota of two bird posts.

26 August, 2016

Maritime flowers

Visitors to Skokholm during high summer would have a hard time overlooking the array of wildflowers that carpet the cliff tops. At this time of year Sea Mayweed and Ragwort dominate at ground level much to the delight of pollinating insects. 

A species of bee in the Colletes genus enjoying Sea Mayweed - a particularly hard genus to identify to species level.

 Ragwort is a common sight on the cliff tops, as are the Cinnabar caterpillars that feed on the plant

Back in 2014, Golden-rod was abundant across Skokholm's grassland, with Ragwort growing in only very low densities. In the past couple of years the tides have changed. Population of Golden-rod seems to have crashed and now only isolated clumps still thrive around the farm and on The Neck, whilst Ragwort is everywhere.


A whole host of smaller plants add to the cliff-top colour spectrum at this time of year.

Creating a carpet of pink across the island's coastline in early-summer, by August only a few Thrift plants remain in flower


Field Pansy and Scarlet Pimpernel cope well with the arid conditions of Skokholm's rabbit-grazed dry grassland

Bog Pimpernel grows amongst Marsh Pennywort in the wetter flushes and streams

20 August, 2016

Returning to Skokholm

A couple of weeks back I received a message from Ian Beggs, a regular guest at Skokholm Bird Observatory who stayed there for two weeks whilst I was assistant warden. He was driving back to Skokholm for a week of bird ringing and wondered if I wanted to fill up a spare seat in his car. There were no two ways about it, returning to Skokholm has been top on my list of things to do ever since I left the island two years ago. A quick exchange with wardens Richard & Giselle and it turned out I had a bed to sleep on for the week!

Having spent a summer and half an autumn on the island in 2014, Skokholm has a very special place in my heart, and the whole visit was a trip down memory lane. Everything was where I'd left it, bar a couple of humongous boulders which had dislodged and tumbled down into the sea. After a couple of days of mist, wind and horizontal rain, we were basking in sunshine for the remainder of the week, intensifying the warm colours of Skokholm's Old Red Sandstone and giving the island's cliffs their characteristic red-brown hue.

It was great to be back, catching up with old friends and making new ones. There's never a dull moment on the island, with fellow guests including several BTO seabird researchers who were fitting radio-tracking devices onto Storm-petrels, and award-winning wildlife photographer Sam Hobson who had come to Skokholm with a vivid image in his mind of the perfect Manx Shearwater photograph to capture.

Every square inch of Red Sandstone on Skokholm is carpeted in various maritime lichens, some being extremely rare like the delicate Golden Hair Lichen below...

Sam and I discovered a Basking Shark just off the lighthouse cliffs one afternoon - the first I'd ever seen and a rare sight around Pembrokeshire waters. We watched it slowly cruise east towards the mainland, dorsal fin and tail barely breaking the surface as it battled against the turbulant sea in an effortless and unperturbed manner. Unfortunately, by the time I'd mustered up enough phone reception to alert the other islanders the shark was moving into bright glistening waters directly below a hot sun and we lost sight of it as the first 'twitchers' arrived.

Basking Shark twitch

North Haven

Looking out towards Pembrokeshire - Skomer on the left, Marloes on the right and my feet in the middle

Painted white stones mark the various paths that run across the island

The farm complex at sunset